French kidnets buckle back down to the basics this season

With five free-to-air networks targeting youth audiences, three French-originated thematic channels and a strong lineup of U.S.-backed cable and satellite outlets, France is a complex and competitive kids TV market. Programming players stake their survival on demo and genre specialization - and this fall is no exception. What is different this season is that French broadcasters are staying the scheduling course and falling back on proven franchises - a stark contrast from the block-launching frenzy of seasons past.
September 1, 2003

With five free-to-air networks targeting youth audiences, three French-originated thematic channels and a strong lineup of U.S.-backed cable and satellite outlets, France is a complex and competitive kids TV market. Programming players stake their survival on demo and genre specialization – and this fall is no exception. What is different this season is that French broadcasters are staying the scheduling course and falling back on proven franchises – a stark contrast from the block-launching frenzy of seasons past.

In the world of free TV, commercial networks TF1 and M6 go up against a public service triumvirate consisting of France 2, France 3 and France 5. Although there is some overlap between the public channels, each has taken charge of a specific youth demo, with France 2 focusing mainly on teens, France 3 serving the six to 11 set, and France 5 taking on preschoolers.

Mainstream network France 2 provides a full range of animation, drama, factual and magazine series for teens. But youth programming chief Sophie Gigon’s current emphasis is on diversifying the channel’s animation portfolio. Headlining shows like Ellipsanime’s Corto Maltese (a 2-D animated, feature-length film about an early-1900s adventurer) and CGI series Ace Lightning (BBC Worldwide/AAC Kids) are cases in point. And this year yielded a partnership with Millimages subsidiary Amuse Films on Les Grabonautes (26 x 13 minutes). Aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds, the series is a stop-motion comedy about a family of aliens that migrates to the planet Grabo.

Having previously aired Granada’s teen drama 24Seven, France 2 will debut the prodco’s new series Girls in Love, a 13 x half-hour live-actioner based on the novels by Jacqueline Wilson, this fall.

France 3 is the country’s most active kids series financier at the broadcast level, splitting its US$17-million annual budget almost equally between original productions and commissions. So far this year, the channel has been stable against last year’s numbers, netting a 35% share of the four to 14 demo. France 3 co-produces 11 long-running series per year on average, and this fall, it will launch: Corneil & Bernie (52 x 12 minutes, with Millimages), about a genius pet dog called Corneil who lives a pampered life until Bernie is appointed his dog-sitter; and Martin Matin (52 x 13 minutes), about a boy who wakes up to amazing discoveries each morning – from becoming a dragon, to having a twin brother.

Beyond that, the channel is sticking to proven toons like Titeuf, Cedric, Rugrats, Braceface, Jackie Chan Adventures and Spider-Man. But France 3 is not averse to live action – indeed, it picked up Decode’s The Zack Files this summer. On Sunday mornings, France 3 nets a 27% share of the four-plus demo with its Warner Bros. superheroes block. Titles that may play in the block this season are Corneil & Bernie and a new series of Marathon’s Marsupilami.

France 5 broke into the kids arena last year with three weekday blocks (running from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., 12:05 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. to 8 p.m.). And the network recently opened up its schedule to kids on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. France 5 acquisitions for fall include Chorion’s Make Way For Noddy (100 x 10 minutes) and Decode’s Franny’s Feet (13 x 30 minutes). Also in the programming mix are Rolie Polie Olie (34 x eight minutes, Sparkling/Nelvana), Le Nidouille (52 x six minutes, Storimages) and Milo (52 x five minutes, Les Films de la Perrine). Emphasizing its overlap with France 3, France 5 has also picked up Decode/Funbag’s 2-D toon King (26 x 22 minutes) to serve its eight- to 12-year-old viewers.

The France Television consortium’s main rival in the free-viewing universe is leading commercial network TF1. The focus at TF1 is on kids four to 10 – with no preschool fare. Like Baron, head of children’s programming Dominique Poussier is primarily interested in action-adventure or comedy toons, but with a greater emphasis on acquisitions (like Pokémon, which returns to the net this fall).

M6 is not as big as TF1 or France 3, but it is emerging as an important kids co-production player. A good example is its partnership with Antefilms and Fox Kids France on Funky Cops, about two policemen who turn into disco stars in ’70s San Francisco. The series is due for its second run on M6 in the fall and on Fox Kids in early 2004. Another recent M6 co-pro effort is Kid Paddle (52 x 13 minutes, with Dupuis, Spectra and Canal J), about kids who are a little too obsessed with video games.

Additional 2003 acquisitions include Yu-Gi-Oh!, which has been airing on Saturday mornings throughout the summer. The second season begins in September, and M6 head of children’s programming Natalie Altmann has high expectations for it.

Of course, free-to-air is only part of the picture when it comes to kids TV in France. According to the latest MediaCabSat audience survey measuring September 2002 to June 2003, kids thematic channels now pull in around 50% of the four to 14 audience. The reigning kidnet king is Canal J, and its numbers are boosted by the fact that it has analogue cable distribution – a platform the likes of Disney and Cartoon arrived too late to take advantage of, due to limited capacity. As a result, Canal J reaches 3.5 million homes on cable and CanalSatellite, while its nearest rival Disney is limited to 1.5 million. (Disney is a premium service, while all other kidnets are on basic cable.)

In terms of the overall kids market, Canal J has a 6.2% share of kids four to 14, but there’s no question that the channel is taking Disney’s presence seriously. In December 2002, Canal J began running a Nick block, as did sister channel TiJi. These will continue through fall 2003 with headline shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Rugrats. ‘The link with Nick has been really effective for us,’ says managing director Pierre Belaisch, ‘not just for programs, but also because there is a similar personality at the channels.’

Although Nick content remains key, Canal J regards its local flavor as an important asset with which to win viewers, which is why Belaisch heralds the breakout of the channel’s memory test gameshow Memomix (which launched in spring 2003 and airs at 6:15 p.m. on Saturdays). Fall acquisitions include Jackie Chan Adventures, a second run of Yu-Gi-Oh! and more eps of Titeuf. Season highlights include Marathon’s Martin Mystery – a cross between The X-Files and Scooby-Doo that will air on Canal J in December. And the net has also pegged ShoPro’s Mirmo Zebang – about a girl who discovers a magical force that exists in the tea leaves at the bottom of her cup – for a fall debut.

With 70% of its schedule devoted to animation, Canal J’s fall plans also include widening the search for new toon properties by introducing a number of series with episodes under five minutes in length. New pick-ups include Ralph the Record Rat (104 x one minutes/Alphanim and Ocean Sounds Studios) and The Adrenalini Brothers (10 x 2.5 minutes/acquired from U.K.-based Pesky). According to Belaisch, shorts provide the network with greater flexibility and are a low-cost way of piloting new ideas for long form.

TiJi, which is in 2.2 million homes, has seen a jump in viewing over the last quarter, now capturing 9.2% of the four to 14 set. Deputy managing director Belaisch says this is a remarkable jump ‘in a universe in which the number of competitive channels has doubled from six to 13 in the last year.’ But TiJi is also implementing a fall strategy focused on key debuts and returning franchises. The channel will launch Decode’s The Save-Ums! and Nelvana/

Ellipsanime’s Babar for fall. Belaisch is upbeat about the channel’s decision to produce 40 new episodes of Sac A Truc, a local version of Sesame Workshop’s Big Bag, a muppet series set in a small store run by human character Molly. The new run – which focuses on music – will complement 60 existing 30-minute eps.

Canal J’s big thematic rival is Disney Channel – which is available via the CanalSatellite digital platform and digital cable. In November 2002, Disney turned up the heat on Canal J by launching a digital bouquet on CanalSatellite that includes Toon Disney and preschool net Playhouse Disney. Ratings figures this year suggest the move has paid off for Disney – which now rakes in a 16.7% share of four- to 14-year-olds in the 1.5 million homes that subscribe to its channel bouquet. According to program chief Julien Borde, this compares with 11% in the period before the new networks launched.

Although Disney lags behind Canal J’s overall figures, comparisons in CanalSatellite homes show a much closer competitive battle. Among kids four to 14, Disney Channel outperforms Canal J, taking a viewing share of 8.5% if you figure in numbers from its recently launched +1 channel. Add in the other Disney nets, and its share rises to 12.8%. Disney’s strategy this fall rests on maintaining the momentum it has built up since its launch.

Borde says series like Kim Possible, Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven and Even Stevens have proven to be the Disney Channel’s most popular shows. Because of quotas, Disney Channel France has a high proportion of French-produced shows when compared to other international Disney networks. For fall 2003, a key domestic title will be DIC/M6 animated co-pro Stargate, a 26 x 26-minute spin-off of the movie/TV series of the same name. Also for 2003/2004, Disney has ordered teen drama Black Hole High (26 x 26 minutes) from Fireworks and DIC toon Super Duper Sumos.

Over at Playhouse Disney, The Book of Pooh has been enlisted to combat TiJi’s strong lineup. Other fall highlights include Tweenies (BBC Worldwide), Funny Little Bugs (Ellipsanime) and Tiny Planets (Pepper’s Ghost and Sesame Workshop).

Disney’s recent acquisition Fox Kids France took a beating in MediaCabSat Wave 4 (September 2002 to March 2003). But an overhaul in management, a longer broadcast day (up to 24 hours a day from 15) and a revamped programming schedule based on building in regularity are turning things around, says recently appointed managing director Gaspard de Chavagnac. All told, in Wave 5 of the MediaCabSat survey, Fox Kids saw its share of the four to 10 demo rise by 31% in CanalSatellite homes during the last quarter.

For fall, de Chavagnac is hoping for more improvements with headliners such as Funky Cops, TV Asahi’s Shin Chan (which it airs exclusively), Marathon’s Totally Spies! and Jonathan M. Shiff Productions’ Pirate Island. ‘We’ve also brought in human presenters because we think that will help build loyalty [by creating a personality for the network],’ adds de Chavagnac.

Part of Fox Kids’ problem has been that Canal J and Cartoon Network have made serious inroads into the edgier, boy-oriented segment of the market that it used to own. In the last MediaCabSat survey (Wave 5), Cartoon Network took a healthy 6.2% share of kids four to 14 in CanalSatellite homes. Cartoon Network’s big fall debuts include Star Wars: Clone Wars, Codename: Kids Next Door and Mucha Lucha. A large emphasis has also been placed on interactive and enhanced-TV content like the Dexter’s Laboratory remote-controlled game spin-off Dexterminator.

Until recently, most kidnets were broadcast via cable and/or CanalSatellite, with the TPS platform relying solely on Teletoon. In 2003, however, TPS expanded its kids lineup to try and lure subscribers away from CanalSatellite. TPS’s fight back began in late 2002 with the launch of a Teletoon +1 channel. In April, it added Cartoon Network sister channel Boomerang (which will debut What’s New Scooby-Doo? this fall), an infotainment channel for seven- to 14-year-olds called Eureka, and the TF1-backed Tfou TV (which is based on shows from TF1′s terrestrial kids block and pay-TV channel TF1 Jeunesse).

TPS Jeunesse head of acquisitions Caroline Boré-Dijoud, who programs Teletoon and Eureka, says the big successes for Teletoon are comedy and action-adventure shows. ‘Series full of gags like SpongeBob SquarePants (Nick) and Tobornoc (Une Grosse Boite Americaine) do well, as do Beyblade (Nelvana), Rescue Heroes (Nelvana) and Lost World (Vivavision).’ Not surprisingly, there will be more of the same this fall – with a new season of Beyblade, TV-Loonland’s Metalheads and Bardel’s Silverwing. For younger viewers, Cosgrove Hall preschool show Engie Benjy joins the fall lineup.

The big change in scheduling will be a greater emphasis on hits. ‘Beyblade has been doing so well in France that we decided to dedicate a real slot to it [earlier this year], with special bonus features such as portraits of main characters, game rules and interviews with champions,’ says Boré-Dijoud. A new season of interactive gameshow The Nelly Nut Show (TV-Animation) – complete with new games and characters – will also be included in the sked.

Eureka’s fall lineup includes a diverse range of factual titles such as CCI Entertainment’s historical docu-drama Timeblazers; Babelfish’s Aliens Among Us (portraits of kids living in different cultures); Revelation – The Initial Journey, a history series from Cumulus; do-it-yourself show Fingertips from Entertainment Rights; CBC docu-drama Spynet; and horseriding drama Saddle Club (Protocol Entertainment, Crawfords Australia and Lancit Media). A revamp of Eureka’s daily magazine show L’E! Mag also joins the sked.

About The Author


Brand Menu